Sat. Aug 02, 2003
Suicide Subpoenas – Since I spent a fair amount of vitriol against one side in “It’s Official: Downloaders Don’t Care About Copyright,” it’s time to point out the idiocy on the other side (as if it isn’t plainly obvious to most already), as summarized in the New York Times.
“The Recording Industry Association of America has obtained close to 1,000 such subpoenas over the last four weeks to more than a dozen Internet service providers [...] Most Internet providers are notifying the unlucky subscribers by mail that they are legally required to turn over their contact information.”
“ ‘They could have used some other way to inform people than scaring the bejiminy out of them,’ said a mother who received a copy of the subpoena last Wednesday, listing several songs that her 14-year-old son had made available for others to copy from his computer.”
“The 150 songs her son had on his computer have been deleted, along with his computer privileges for the rest of the summer [...] She added that her son stayed in his room all day, while her older daughter worried that her parents would not be able to pay for college next year.”
“The notion of paying up to $150,000 for each of the eight songs that the recording industry listed on the subpoena – not to mention lawyer fees of $200 an hour should the family decide to fight a lawsuit – still boggles her mind. ‘Hopefully when they find out he’s just a kid, they’ll drop it,’ she said.”
Well, that certainly would seem the sensible and PR oriented thing to do, but sorry lady, you’re not dealing with sensible people who have a clue about the damage they are doing to their brand. You’re dealing with the RIAA, the Gang of Five.
“ ‘I guess people didn’t take it seriously, but we really are very serious about this,’ said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. ‘We want the message to get across to parents that what their kids are doing is illegal. We are going to file lawsuits.’ ”
And in the world the RIAA inhabits, the One and Only way to get the message across is in the form of a six figure lawsuit. Meanwhile in Middle America, parents are able to offer a more sensible option: “If someone had sent me a letter saying ‘this is wrong,’ you can bet your sweet potatoes that would have gotten my attention. This just seems so drastic.”
This mother has already grounded her 14 year old son, stripped his computer privileges, deleted all the songs, and had extensive talks with him about the rights of others and the wrong he did. This could have been accomplished just as effectively with a cease and desist letter that threatens the further step of a lawsuit. And if that had been the course of action the RIAA had chosen, not only would it have saved them money, you and I wouldn’t be reading the details in The New York Times.
From what I’ve seen so far, they put very little thought or due diligence into selecting who they would sue. If they went after a hand picked hundred people who they could prove downloaded and uploaded hundreds or thousands of songs every month, the story might take a different spin.
Instead, if lawsuits like this go through to their conclusion, the media will report them, and the public won’t see a 14 year old whose dastardly illegal acts put his whole family in danger, they will see a Cabal of Rich MegaCorps suing an average American family with few resources into bankruptcy (and keeping their children out of college) over as few as eight songs.
They appear to be so clueless that they don’t see how this is going to play out: courts clogged with over a thousand such cases, massive expense to prosecute them, bankrupting those who even try to present a defense, cherry picked tales of family woe in the media, resulting in a public relations disaster, and a hardened public attitude against the industry. Oh, yeah, and at least a continuation if not a great increase in declining sales for the Gang of Five. Angry people don’t buy your products.
Their choice of tactics and selection of targets to sue is almost comically suicidal. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up: “ ‘I used the program,’ said the [Colorado] man, 41, who used KaZaA to find songs that included the words ‘happy birthday’ to play for his young daughter when she woke up on her birthday, among other times. ‘It’s cute, but look what happened,’ he said. ‘It’s an expensive birthday, that’s the reality.’ ”
This is but a baby spoon of a taste of what’s to come for the RIAA if they keep to their stubborn course. They will succeed in painting their industry as family-robbing villains, and copyright as an evil tool solely used by MegaCorps to profit … at anyone’s expense, by the most expedient means.
That will surely bring back the Good Ol’ Days of booming CD sales (emphasis mine): “The ominous letters and a list of screen names culled from court filings that is circulating on the Web underscore the unusually personal nature of the industry’s latest effort to stamp out online piracy, which it blames for a 25 percent drop in sales of CD’s since 1999.”
Hmmm, what else has dropped 25% (or more) since 1999? The stock market? A lot of retirement accounts? Many people’s annual income? The projected government budget surplus? The amount of disposable income in most American homes?
Gee, do you think these things could be related? Is it possible that many people are faced with questions they never dreamed of in 1999 … “should I buy those two new CD’s I really want, or, should I keep my cell phone turned on for another month?”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go spend some time trying to figure out which of you I can sue for my decrease in annual income since 1999.